Colombia’s Leonardo Paez arrived at the end of the opening stage of the 17th Alpentour Trophy battered and bruised, but emerged victorious as he claimed honours in Planai Stadium, Austria.
Hot temperatures combined with still-drying mud sections provided plenty of challenges for competitors. Stage winner Paez himself wasn’t exempt from the carnage, suffering a number of injuries after a crash.
“Leonardo had a severe crash today and sustained a deep cut under his eye. Also his hand is very bruised, we don’t know yet if he has broken anything,” said a member of his support crew at the finish. “I don’t even want to mention his bloody knee.”
Finishing behind Paez were Italy’s Tony Longo and Belgium’s Roel Paulissen, who described conditions out on course.
“On some parts of the track I was stuck in half a meter of mud, plus on the highest point we had snow and I felt like in a fridge,” said Paulissen. “But because of the heat I had to drink a lot – at least four bottles today. And they say, that Friday will be an even hotter day.”
Former Marathon World Champion Alban Lakata finished fourth and said afterwards that he his fellow competitors had been beaten by a superior climber.
“Leonardo had an incredible pace on the climbs, he took out a good three minutes to the lead group over 600m of elevation,” he said. “On the descent into the valley we were able to catch up, but couldn’t take the lead away from him entirely.
Bigham in charge, Mullens goes top-5
Sally Bigham claimed honours in the women’s race. She said afterwards that to some extent her performance caught her by surprise.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, I really like racing in Austria generally. But the climbs were really tough and the entire stage pushed me to my limits. I’m at the end of a tough training regime and I’m glad that my legs responded well today. For now I’m ahead and I’ll defend my lead.”
Christina Kollmann finished second – the highest placed Austrian rider – ahead of Kiwi Kate Flucker.
“It was very rough, this stage had everything. For me this is the ideal preparation for the [Marathon] World Champs in two weeks,” said Kollmann. “I’m born in Schladming, which is why the Alpentour is really close to my heart. And this first stage with a second place went well for me already.”
Flucker’s performance was impressive, something she put down to a level of familiarity with conditions on the day.
“The trails here are very similar to the ones in my home country, New Zealand, maybe even a bit steeper. My goal is to keep my position, even though I was surprised that I got third today. I didn’t think that I raced that well early on.”
Australia’s Peta Mullens, who is fresh from a bout of XC racing on the World Cup circuit made the last minute decision to forgo a return to the road for another dose of dirt riding. It proved a worthwhile move as she claimed fourth place.
“Yesterday I woke up at 10am in Switzerland and was supposed to do a road race in Great Britain. However, my boyfriend and I checked what other races are on in the area and that’s how we decided to come here to the Alpentour. I started very conservatively today, was about 10th in the beginning. That was when my boyfriend Jarrod [Moroni] overtook me, he’s racing in the Elite Master category. From then onwards I picked up my pace and was able to catch many of my competitors and also Jarrod, whom I beat to the finish in the end.”
1. Paez (Columbia) 2:50:31,5
2. Longo (Italy) +0:32
3. Paulissen (Belgium) +0:47
4. Lakata (Austria) +1:09
5. Geismayr (Austria) 1:10
1. Bigham (Great Britain) 3:27:17,4
2. Kollmann (Austria) +3:09
3. Fluker (New Zealand) +6:46
4. Mullens (Australia) +7:24
5. Michiels (Belgium) +9:54